Warner Bros. // 1999 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 3rd, 2011
Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner.
"Now you see how that works? She screwed with the sharks, and now the sharks, they're screwing with us."
Dr. Susan McAllister (Saffron Burrows, The Bank Job) has been working on a project which could win her the Nobel Prize: experimenting on the brains of sharks in the hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer's. The experiments have increased the intelligence level of the sharks exponentially, but that can't be a big problem, right? One day, company head honcho Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) decides to pay a visit to Dr. McAllister's lavish underwater facility and check out the work she's been doing. Unfortunately, the tour takes a nasty turn when the sharks decide to stage an alarmingly well-orchestrated attack. Soon, Susan, Russell, scientist Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), shark wrangler Carter Blake (Thomas Jane, The Punisher), religious chef Preacher (LL Cool J, NCIS Los Angeles), and a handful of others find themselves forced to fight for their lives. Who (if anyone) will survive this violent battle between man and beast?
If Deep Blue Sea were a stage play about a group of individuals attempting to figure out how to cope with a series of deadly shark attacks (which would probably take place off-stage), it would be a miserable experience. The characters are thinly-drawn stereotypes (the gruff hero, the comic relief guy, the fretful annoyance, the smart-but-foolish scientist, the authority figure, etc.) and the dialogue is cringe-inducing on numerous occasions. Just consider these two cute moments we're treated to in one dialogue scene between two characters:
Russell Franklin: "I'll be damned."
Jim Whitlock: "No, Mr. Franklin...you just experienced what it's like not to be damned."
Russell Franklin: "What in God's creation?!"
Jim Whitlock: "Oh, not his...ours."
You get the idea. This is also the sort of film in which one character will ask for an explanation of something, a scientifically minded character will start to explain in rather technical fashion, and the first character will roll their eyes and say something like, "In English, please!" Despite the presence of an A-list cast, Deep Blue Sea isn't able to escape many of the usual problems of creature feature B-movies when it comes to dialogue and characterization. Thankfully, none of those problems really matter all that much, because what Deep Blue Sea is all about is A) sharks eating people, and B) stuff blowing up real good.
Few directors make stuff blow up real good quite like Renny Harlin, one of the most notoriously high-profile big-budget directors of the 1990s. It's funny to consider how that decade marked Harlin's rise and fall in such neat fashion; he kicked it off in 1990 with his first blockbuster (the hugely successful and hilariously-titled Die Hard 2: Die Harder) and ended it in 1999 with his final blockbuster, Deep Blue Sea (he's been stuck on lower-profile stuff ever since). In-between, he delivered Cliffhanger, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the infamously expensive flop Cutthroat Island. Harlin's films are completely devoid of grace, subtlety and intelligence, but he did have a knack for creating decent, turn-your-brain-off popcorn flicks. Deep Blue Sea may look and sound pretty stupid on the surface, but it's actually fairly clever in the way it subverts genre expectations.
The film's biggest asset is that it realizes the audience has seen this sort of thing before and that it's never going to live up to the standard of its inspirations (namely, Jaws and Alien). The film never has pretensions of being anything more than a bloody B-movie, but it cleverly sets up a number of familiar situations and then finds ways to sidestep the usual cliched manner in which those situations traditionally play out. I'd give you specific examples, but they would all contain spoilers and ruin the fun. Suffice it to say that Deep Blue Sea's claim to fame is delivering a startlingly unexpected character death -- not only because we don't expect that character to die so soon, but because we really don't expect them to die at the precise moment they do. Most films of this sort build up to character deaths and treat them as pay-offs to scenes of suspense; Deep Blue Sea prefers to just kill people without warning and then send everyone scrambling to cope with the aftermath. It's an enjoyable, reasonably fresh approach, and the action scenes are handled with such unapologetically over-the-top flair (hint: anything that can explode most assuredly will at some point) that the film proves to be Big Dumb Fun rather than a tedious Jaws imitator.
Deep Blue Sea swims onto Blu-ray sporting a sturdy 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. The image has a nice filmic texture and doesn't appear to have suffered from any digital tampering, though the level of detail isn't exactly eye-popping. Facial detail is strong, but background detail sometimes seems a little murky. The color palette is diverse but generally muted throughout the film, so there's little which really has much pop. Blacks are impressively inky, though flesh tones seem a tad reddish at times. Audio is sturdy as well, with the action sequences proving satisfactorily explosive and immersive. While this track isn't going to rock your speaker system in the way that a film made ten years later might, it does have some muscle. Trevor Rabin's aggressive score packs an impressive wallop, and dialogue is clear throughout. Supplements are borrowed from the DVD release: a commentary with Harlin and Jackson, a couple of EPK-style featurettes (the 15-minute "When Sharks Attack" and the 9-minute "Sharks of the Deep Blue Sea"), some deleted scenes (with optional Harlin commentary) and a trailer.
Keep your expectations reasonable and you'll have a good time with Deep Blue Sea. It's hardly a classic thriller, but there's enough fun to justify a watch. The Blu-ray release looks and sounds nice enough.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes